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A Vigilante

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By design, Australian writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson rarely provides a moment free from unease with her powerful rumination on domestic violence, A Vigilante.

Sadie (Olivia Wilde) uses her combative abilities to help women and children escape from abusive households. In her wake, Sadie encounters victims of varying backgrounds; an effect which highlights the rampant prevalence of domestic violence amongst society.

Reliving her own harrowing trauma with blood-curdling intensity, Sadie offers her services as both a means to cope with her own loss, brought to her by the hands of her abusive ex-partner (Morgan Spector), and an offer of salvation to others.

While not always able to reach the dramatic high notes needed to fulfil such a challenging role, there is no denying Wilde’s deep-seated commitment to the lead role. She proves herself a compassionate actor that is deeply invested in the film’s vision of inspiring outreach.

With A Vigilante, Daggar-Nickson allows the subtext of the film – the bravery of speaking out amidst living in abusive surroundings – to act as a beacon of support to people who are victims of domestic violence. Every effort is made not to trivialise the experiences of the characters.

As a filmmaker, Daggar-Nickson does not allow genre to restrict her vision, blending the fabrics of drama, horror, and revenge-thriller to heighten the characters’ sense of isolation and fear. The third act of the film turns to horror-thriller sensibilities, offering the viewer, as effective as a film can depict such an atrocity, a confronting glimpse into the traumatic experiences endured by too many.

Daggar-Nickson turns every frame into an opportunity to establish mood. The bleak, natural lighting and muted colour-scheme baked into the cinematography imbuing a distressful, authentic vibe. She demonstrates an absorbing sense of poeticism – correlating the imposing and immovable force of trucks with abusers – and a piercing point-of-view that ought to command attention from Hollywood.

The graphic depiction of violence in A Vigilante is affecting. It will likely be troublesome for many viewers. Violence is applied two-fold: (a) denoting how abuse is used to control, and (b) highlighting the leniency of law in preventing it.

A Vigilante is a hard watch, but an important one, delivering career-defining work by both Daggar-Nickson and Wilde.

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6 Underground

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Well, this is certainly an interesting team-up. On one side, you’ve got Michael Bay, the excess-driven blockbuster titan that audiences either love or love to hate. And on the other, you’ve got the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the pop culture savvy pair who gave Deadpool the big-screen treatment he deserves. They’ve even brought Ryan Reynolds along for the ride. And when these worlds collide, it makes for one of Bay’s better efforts to date, and a reminder that he remains an audience pull for a reason.

Everything one would associate with a Bay-directed film is here: Helicopters in the sunset, an ever-present sense of American patriotism, and of course, the aggressively hyperactive pacing. It’s the kind of sensory overload that can only be achieved through the combined efforts of three editors in the cutting room and a year’s supply of energy drinks. But unlike most of Bay’s previous examples, these trademarks end up fitting the mood of the scene more times than not. Whether it’s fear of getting shot, paranoia when things start going wrong, or just embracing the rush of freedom that the story is soaked in, it’s the first time in a very long while that Bay’s found a story that fits his style.

As for the writing, it slots into Reese and Wernick’s usual tact of both celebrating and ribbing the genre they find themselves in, whether it’s comic books, isolation-in-space thrillers or zom-com action flicks. And here, they’ve essentially made an unofficial Fast & Furious entry, with all the pretences of family and globe-trotting ridiculousness that implies. It even cuts the crap with the characters, designating them by number rather than name (yeah, they eventually get to the names, but don’t expect to remember them). While their pop culture reference game is relatively weaker here, their scripting gives a decent-enough throughline to keep the story on the rails in spite of the chaos.

Said story is the stuff of pure power fantasy, with a group of self-employed mercenaries who have faked their deaths so that they can violently improve the world while staying under the radar. It dabbles somewhat in political commentary, which hits a weird note when it shows a street revolution full of people wearing branded clothing (Because that worked out so well for Pepsi), but it’s hard not to get caught up in the populist exhilaration it generates. Between Bay’s visual style, Lorne Balfe’s pulsing compositions, and the slew of arena-shaking electro-alt-rock needle drops, it makes for a thrilling, smooth ride.

Now, with Bay being the memetic punching bag that he is, all of this could still serve as proof positive to completely avoid this, which itself is unavoidable. But with how reliably headache-inducing his work tends to be, 6 Underground being this entertaining is almost miraculous. It’s easily his best work since Pain & Gain, and in a year littered with cinematic disappointments, its place as a pleasant surprise only shines even brighter.

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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

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Star Wars is a dominant force at the box office, particularly since the Disney acquisition of 2012. Oh sure, there have been some disappointments where a film only made a ludicrous amount of money as opposed to an unholy chunk of change – take a bow, Solo – but ultimately the tale set in a galaxy far, far away is doing fine. So, it has to be asked, where are the video games?

Back in the day, Star Wars video games rained from the heavens. You couldn’t get away from them! And while the quality varied, there were a shitload of options to choose from. Lately, the pickings have been slim. Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015 and its sequel, Star Wars: Battlefront II have been the main entries in recent times and if you don’t like online multiplayer shooters and want, instead, to focus on a single player story-driven adventure… Tough titty, Padawan. That all changes with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a single player adventure that succeeds in a number of key areas, but could use further training in others.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order puts you in the scuffed boots of Cal Kestis, space ranga and Jedi on the run. Ever since Order 66 (where Palpatine attempted to exterminate the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith), life has been tough for the few remaining Jedi, and Cal has to live like a normal person, hiding his abilities and connection with the Force. Everything changes when the Empire finally tracks him down and he must team up with former Jedi Knight, Cere Junda and affable ship captain Greez Dritus. The trio travel from planet to planet, with Cal attempting to regain his powers, solve a larger mystery and defeat the forces aligned against him.

In practical terms, Fallen Order plays a bit like a combination of Uncharted and Dark Souls. Cal arrives at a new area, explores a bunch, gains XP, creates shortcuts and will eventually fight a boss. If he dies, he spawns back at the last meditation point (the bonfire analogue) and needs to retrieve his lost XP from his murderer. Oh, and all the enemies have respawned in the meantime.

There’s no story rationalisation for this mechanic and it feels very bolted on, as if developers Respawn Entertainment just said, ‘hey, Dark Souls is cool, let’s do that too’, and never thought about it any harder than that.

The problem with the comparison is that, FromSoftware’s games have precision, nuance and strategy baked onto the combat. Fallen Order’s combat is very janky and imprecise, often leading to cheap deaths or unearned victories. You do get used to it over time, and the lightsaber battles certainly look cool, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Honestly, the Uncharted side of things isn’t all that much better, with the jumping and wall-running feeling a little loose and imprecise as well, which can sap some of the joy from the game’s big setpieces.

So, ultimately, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is going to require you meeting it halfway. Can you forgive the combat jank, the stiff controls and the frequent bugs (particularly on the PS4 Pro)? Can you look past the dozen minor annoyances and drink in the engaging, if unspectacular, story? Are you so starved for Star Wars video game content that ‘pretty good’ is good enough? If the answer is yes, then you’ll likely really dig Fallen Order. For the rest of us, it’s a decent Star Wars adventure that feels like it could have used another six months in development to truly be a new hope.

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Death Stranding

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As the credits finally rolled on my playthrough of Death Stranding, I was reminded of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks season three from 2017. Not so much because of the shared themes and symbolism inherent to both, although a case could be made, but more the realisation that what I was experiencing was the unfiltered work of an artist who was creating something without compromise. Adore it, loathe or just plain don’t understand it, Twin Peaks season 3 was exactly what Lynch wanted to make. Even with its maddening ending and chronic overuse of Kyle MacLachlan’s “Dougie” alter-ego, which was cute at first but got very old. So too it is with Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, an overlong, indulgent work with some amazing moments but far too much of the video game equivalent of Dougie.

Death Stranding puts the player in the rapidly deteriorating boots of Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus), who is a gruff squinty man with a complicated past who delivers packages to people in a post-apocalyptic America. But this isn’t your usual apocalypse, there are no zombies roaming around here, just empty vistas of space, delivery-obsessed psychos called MULEs and invisible ghosts called BTs (Beached Things) who drag you into an inky underworld. As he travels vast distances, mostly on foot, Sam will meet characters, form alliances and slowly unravel the mystery of why the world is in such a sorry state (and who, in fact, he really is).

There’s been a lot of talk from creator Hideo Kojima that Death Stranding is a brand new genre of game, unlike anything we’ve seen before. This statement is, honestly, nonsense. While Hideo’s usual surreal, lengthy cutscenes and striking imagery are present and feel unique to the mad auteur, the vast majority of the gameplay in Death Stranding is from the ‘fetch quest’ oeuvre. You’ll lob up to a location, speak to a hologram, take a package, deliver it bloody ages away, connect the person to the Chiral Network, get another package and lob off to deliver that. You’ll do this over and over again during the course of the game, traveling from flatlands to rocky hills, to snowy mountains to dead-looking beaches. The scenery will change but the gameplay will mostly remain the same. Package, deliver, connect, new package. Rinse and repeat.

There’s a middle section of Death Stranding where you find your groove and begin to enjoy the delivery process; usually when you’ve unlocked motorbikes or mech suits that move faster and enough weapons to stave off any attacks. Plus, the game’s online element, where other players can leave helpful materials, vehicles and even structures, is a wonderful addition and the game’s saving grace. However, much like the world in which it exists, Death Stranding suffers from dripping entropy. Hours of back and forth, followed by cut scenes, and then more back and forth is intriguing for a while, but by the time you reach the third act you’ll be begging the damn thing to end.

Kojima has always been a weird cat, but in the Metal Gear series he tempered his eccentricities with fascinating, ever-evolving gameplay. In Death Stranding you’re basically a postie who has to look after a baby strapped to his chest. Schlepping parcels for people is a curious choice for a gameplay loop, and there is joy to be found when you’ve crested the top of a mountain and one of the many songs from the game’s gorgeous soundtrack kicks in, but by the tenth time that happens it loses its sense of rueful pathos and begins to feel like a bit of a piss take.

Look, here’s the thing. Stuff like Death Stranding or Twin Peaks lean heavily into the art side of the entertainment equation and your enjoyment will be very subjective. Some people will probably really grok with Death Stranding’s meditative pace and repetitive structure, just as some people thought Dougie doing exactly the same thing for so many episodes was delightful. But for your humble reviewer, the game can’t quite sustain. Yes, the graphics are gorgeous, the world fascinating and the voice acting superb even when choking on some of the goofiest dialogue put on screen. However, overfilling bags and wombling all over creation feels a bit too much like carrying a hefty load of groceries back from the shops, and due to the protracted nature of the storytelling the game only succeeds in fits and starts. Leave it to Hideo Kojima to craft an experience that somehow manages to be simultaneously fascinating and dull – and any game that lets you have a shower with Guillermo del Toro is at the very least memorable – but ultimately Death Stranding is too often a slog rather than a victory lap.

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Only four episodes into the first season, HBO’s Watchmen series could very well be the best comic book adaptation of 2019… that’s saying a lot in a year that’s given us The Boys, Avengers: Endgame, Joker and Preacher.

This isn’t a traditional sequel or spin-off, yet it feels closer to the source material than Zack Snyder’s almost-honourable 2009 feature, which basically recreated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved graphic novel panel-by-panel. What Snyder made up for in visual styling, he lost with some of the bigger ideas that hit home previously.

Watchmen (the series) is helmed by Damon Lindelof, the brilliant/frustrating mind behind Lost, which makes sense with the many disconnected events that occur within the first episode alone. Thankfully, as with The Leftovers, the grand design here seems much more intentional, so viewers are encouraged to take the leap of faith that it’ll all make sense eventually.

Much like Amazon Prime’s The Boys, the casting is what differentiates this from your average silver-screen adaptation. Regina King remains one of the most exciting faces in Hollywood; believably coordinated and violent as the masked vigilante Sister Night, but equally protective and vulnerable as a loving wife/mother.

The supporting cast is bang-on too, from Don Johnson’s smirking police chief to Tim Blake Nelson as the genius redneck known as Looking Glass, and most importantly, the aptly-buff Jeremy Irons in a role that’s hard to describe (even though the producers let slip who he’ll be playing prior to release).

While on the topic of source-related Easter Eggs, the always-magnetic Jean Smart pops up in the third episode as FBI agent and vigilante hunter Laurie Blake – who fans of the comic may know as an ex-vigilante herself, Silk Spectre. Laurie was one of the major players in the original comics, most notably for her love triangle between Dr. Manhattan and Night Owl, so comic fans will salivate knowing she’s playing such a pivotal role once again.

Production-wise this is exceptionally structured & shot. Close to the source, it cuts seamlessly from past to present, with gimmicky interludes of fictional shows that make clear parallels with the current environment, and climactic episodes that will have viewers anticipating each weekly release.

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross expertly tackle the score, using a diverse mix of trappy bass and old-school soul to full effect, with clear influences from Fight Club to Twin Peaks. Fans will be able to get their hands on three different vinyl releases, with volume 1 available November 4.

Needless to say, whether you know everything or nothing about the original comic or previous film adaptation, this is quality television that deserves patience and multiple viewings. Hopefully it might even inspire a few people to go back and read the comic – there’s a reason it’s the only graphic novel on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Books.

Who will watch the Watchmen? You, that’s who.

Episode 5 will air Monday 19th November 2019 on Foxtel.

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Lieutenant Jangles

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When you think cop action movies, your mind likely turns to thoughts of transatlantic settings, such as Los Angeles and New York, more than it does Brisbane. However, Lieutenant Jangles, the new comedy from local filmmaking duo; Nic Champeaux & Daniel Cordery, is out to reset your bias.

Set in a cartoonish interpretation of the ’80s – so, like most action movies from that time period, then – the film sees the titular Lieutenant Jangles (Matt Dickie) seeking revenge for the death of his partner, leading to him stumbling into the machinations of the maniacal Baron Von Schmidt (Jack McGirr). As the two men cross swords, there are car chases, bloody violence and peeing contests. No, literally.

Director Champeaux, who also wrote the film, not only manages to capture the aesthetic of ’80s action films, such as Lethal Weapon and Commando, he does so whilst skewering the very idea of what makes a lean, mean action hero. Forget your world-weary John McLane’s, Jangles is a crude, chain-smoking, alcoholic man-child; a walking Aussie stereotype who, unfathomably, appears to be the only thing stopping chaos raging through Brisbane. He’s Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor, but with a more developed sense of justice. You wouldn’t want to share a towel with Jangles, but his oafish ‘charm’, played with brilliant comic timing by Dickie, ensures that you’re not completely put off by him.

Outside of Jangles himself, the film takes pot shots at the entire action genre, dissecting the very tropes they’re built on. From the extreme machoism and xenophobia, to the genre’s distinct lack of strong female characters, encapsulated in the only female in Jangles’ life who is simply known as “The Woman” (Tamara McLaughlin). Deliberately bringing nothing to the table except being a trophy for the protagonist, her dialogue is knowingly centred around not knowing anything except her inexplicable lust for Jangles.

If your love of apery encompasses the likes of Black Dynamite or Danger 5, then Lieutenant Jangles will most definitely float your boat. The film’s humour comes not from word for word re-enactments of iconic scenes ala Scary Movie, but from the characters themselves; some of whom will look extremely familiar in more ways than one. Take for example, Mark (Daniel Cordery), Jangles’ tattooed, handlebar moustached informant, whose bouts of violence are interrupted by his overbearing father’s need to watch a VHS. Cordery certainly does Eric Bana’s performance in Chopper proud.

Admittedly, all humour is subjective and there are only so many dick jokes in the world which you can laugh at – all of which appear to be in Lieutenant Jangles – meaning the film is clearly not going to be for everyone. However, embrace the anarchy and, from the pre-show trailers packaged with the film, through to the killer synth soundtrack, Lieutenant Jangles will leave you with one hell of a dirty smile on your face.

Lieutenant Jangles will be released through American distribution company Scream Team Releasing on streaming platforms, Blu-ray AND a limited VHS run for hardcore collectors, just in time for Christmas 2019!

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The Outer Worlds

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Just a few years ago, the bar for story-based video games was set pretty damn high. Want a rich world to get lost in? Well, let Bethesda shepherd you through the Fallout or Elder Scrolls franchises. Dig on deep, nuanced character interaction with romantic options? Hell friend, you should drink from Bioware’s cup of Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Prefer to engage with stories featuring decisions that matter? Telltale Games has you covered with multiple options, including The Walking Dead and Batman.

In recent times, however, that seems to have changed. Bethesda appear to be going through some kind of midlife crisis, releasing half-finished live service drek like Fallout 76. Bioware are on fire as well, with recent titles including the desperately disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda and the baffling Anthem. And Telltale Games? They went bust.

The point is: it’s rough out there for folks who just want to get lost in a good story-based single player experience, without microtransactions, compulsory online connectivity or any of the other slings and arrows of outrageous monetisation. Enter The Outer Worlds, from RPG pros Obsidian Entertainment, and say goodbye to your remaining free time.

The Outer Worlds has been affectionately dubbed “Fallout in space” and while that’s a bit reductive, it’s also not entirely wrong. The game is set in a far future where humanity, being run by various megacorporations, has colonised the stars and you – the player character – are thawed out of cryogenic hibernation one day in the Halcyon Galaxy, with very little idea of what’s going on. See, you are one of the people on Hope, a lost colony ship filled with fellow icy boys, and after you’ve been woken up by the eccentric Phineas Vernon Welles, you’ll be required to go on an epic adventure to defrost your chums and maybe save the whole damn galaxy.

In practical terms, The Outer Worlds has you fang around the Halcyon galaxy on your ship The Unreliable, getting into adventures, making tough decisions, locking horns with corporations that range from benign to downright evil, and uncovering the dark secret that has killed so many. In essence, you’ll be digging into a moderate-sized adventure (20-30 hours or so) in a massively complex universe.

While the lore of The Outer Worlds is staggering in its complexity, the actual gameplay is a lot more familiar. Obsidian created the beloved Fallout: New Vegas, and if you’ve played that game you’ve essentially played this one too. There will be hubs of NPCs you need to do stuff for, and long sections of wasteland full of marauders and monsters to kill or avoid. Eventually you’ll reach a point in the story where you’ll be required to pick a side, or change the stakes somehow, and then have to live with the consequences.

It’s a classic first-person RPG formula and while it is definitely engaging, it’s beginning to show its age. Also, this is a game by a small-to-medium sized studio, not a multi-billion dollar corporation, so don’t expect the near endless replayability of something like Fallout 4 or a dizzyingly massive game world.

Still, if you’re interested in playing The Outer Words, chances are you’re here for the writing, and the good news is, the story on offer is great. Well crafted, brimming with fascinating little details, wry comedic touches and characters you’ll actually want to talk to, this is a title that feels like a good book or a beloved TV series. So, while the shooting mechanics are fine rather than spectacular, and the loot game isn’t particularly deep, the story itself is an absolute cracker, and one you’ll think about long after the credits have rolled.

If Obsidian were trying to prove that there’s life left in the single player story-based RPG, they have absolutely succeeded. The Outer Worlds is an engaging and promising introduction to a new IP and hopefully the first of many games set in a brand new, intriguing, thought-provoking universe.

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Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

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What a long, strange ride it’s been for Destiny 2. Launching in September of 2017, Destiny 2 got off to what appeared to be a decent start by including a sizable, albeit shallow, campaign. However, as players reached the endgame it became clear that many of the features enjoyed in the original Destiny had been simplified or removed entirely. And so, began the inevitable backlash, as players revolted and filled reddit forums with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Two short and simplistic DLCs followed, Curse of Osiris and Warmind, neither of which did anything to curb the anger. Things looked grim for Bungie’s most expensive and divisive IP and then, in 2018, Forsaken appeared, boasting a nuanced story, new areas to play, multiple game modes and solid loot variety.

Destiny 2 had finally found its feet, but now it had to keep players interested in the long term. Cut to 2019, and Destiny 2’s next hefty content drop, Shadowkeep, is here and it’s brimming with both good and not-so-good, thankfully weighted on the side of the former.

Shadowkeep brings back gloomy goth bae, Eris Morn, for an adventure on the moon. The Hive has been busy building an enormous crimson-coloured fortress, The Red Keep, which looms over everything like a nightmare and it’s up to you and your fireteam to apply a liberal coating of gunfire to sort them out.

The campaign is both shockingly short and staggeringly filled with reused assets from the original Destiny, with whole sections of the map ported over and entire enemies cut and pasted with just a cheeky reskin applied.

Taken in isolation, this is some bullshit right here, however the game itself has been given numerous upgrades and tweaks. Armour 2.0, a more-fiddly RPG-style stat game, has been added and new loot now feels meaningful. Numerous new game modes like Vex Offensive, Nightmare Hunts and additions to the Crucible (the PvP hub) have been implemented, and while they’re not all winners (Nightmare Hunts are a bit bland, sadly), it makes the player feel as if there’s always something to do, something to grind for.

It should also be noted that while Shadowkeep is a paid expansion, Destiny 2 itself has gone free-to-play after Bungie split with Activision. In practical terms that means you can play most of what Destiny 2 has to offer without spending a cent, which for a game of D2’s quality is a pretty damn sweet deal. As for Shadowkeep itself, while the campaign feels a little cheap, the rest of the additions feel like significant improvements. It’s also an ongoing concern, with new modes and content dropping weekly, so for players who want Destiny 2 to feel like a one stop shop, a hobby game, Shadowkeep is a must.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for Shadowkeep to tell an interesting and twisty tale like The Taken King from D1 or Forsaken from D2, you’re in for a disappointment. However, if you want a reason to grind for new weapons, armour and an engaging excuse to sacrifice your free time at the altar of incrementally raising stats and pew-pew’ing the crap out of antisocial aliens, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is a worthy destination.

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Code Vein

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Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s iconic series, has become so ubiquitous and influential in the realm of video games it basically changed the industry. These days there’s a “[Something] Souls” for everyone. Prefer Lovecraft and monsters to knights and dragons? Well, it’s Bloodborne for you. Dig on scifi? Well, friend, The Surge series beckons. How about a samurai aesthetic? There’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice just waiting for your twitchy digits. And now we have Code Vein, which could easily be pitched as “Anime Souls” or, if you’re feeling feisty, “Dark Souls for weeaboos!”

Set in an apocalyptic, attractively cel-shaded future, Code Vein tells a story that is somehow both undercooked and bafflingly convoluted. Your player-created-character wakes to find themselves bludgeoned by leaden slabs of exposition, before being given control and instructions to find blood beads and fight monsters. Happily, once the NPCs stop banging on, the actual gameplay itself is much more comprehensible. It essentially involves you killing monsters, collecting better armour and weapons and learning new skills in the various classes you can summon at will. The amount of in-menu faffing you can get up to in this game is astonishing, and fans of deep diving RPG management will be in absolute fiddly heaven. On the downside, while the combat apes many of the best aspects of Dark Souls, it lacks that fine touch, that necessary precision, that sets the title apart. That said, Code Vein is a much easier proposition, giving you a choice of AI partners who are actually pretty useful in combat and can be tweaked to suit your play style.

Your biggest barrier to enjoying Code Vein, however, will hugely depend on your tolerance for anime nonsense. If you’re a fan of giggly vampire schoolgirls, metrosexual cheekboney blokes with perplexing hair and endless monologues that feel like beat poetry read by someone suffering from recent cranial trauma, you’re in for a treat. However, if you’re a wee bit anime agnostic… you might not get the charm. Within the opening minutes of Code Vein, a scantily clad lady – with boobs so big they jiggle when she frowns – appears, and talks at you at length, rarely getting anywhere near a coherent thought. Pay close attention to this moment, because variations of it will appear throughout your 30ish hour playthrough.

Code Vein is a strange, imaginative and frustrating proposition. It’s mostly fun, and certainly delivers an engaging world, but if a little more attention had been paid to combat precision – and a little extra work done on the story and dialogue – it could have been a legitimate classic. As it is, the mixture of baffling lore, stilted dialogue, boobtacular fanservice and item management will likely appeal to a very niche crowd who, admittedly, will embrace it like their brand new waifu.

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Richard Says Goodbye

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There was a time when Johnny Depp was more feted for what he did on screen than for what he did off it, when he was garlanded for his highly original takes on his characters, and his willingness to push his performances right to the edge. Lately, Depp has been squeezed by big budgets, special effects and ensemble casts, and his screen cache has sadly diminished somewhat as a result. But while it’s a small, direct-to-home-entertainment film, the very charming Richard Says Goodbye serves up a piquant reminder of what Depp can deliver when he’s gifted with a good script, a sensitive director, and enough room to move.

Written and directed by sophomore talent, Wayne Roberts (2016’s little seen Katie Says Goodbye), Richard Says Goodbye (which was originally titled The Professor…this is getting confusing) puts Depp front and centre as Richard, a rumpled professor at a snooty college who is informed in the film’s opening scene that he has inoperable cancer and only has a year or so to live. Broken but emboldened, the decidedly louche Richard opts to go out with a bang: he laughs when his wife (Rosemarie De Witt) admits to having an affair; he throws all of the disinterested students out of his class and goes all Robin Williams on those that remain, offering lessons about life instead of literature; he flips off most of the authority figures around him; and takes a very, very liberal approach to sex and drugs.

Though an odd, tonally unsteady mix of the edgy (Depp’s willingness to experience, um, certain new things comes as a welcomely risqué kink) and the sentimental (impending death, however, will do that to most filmmakers), the admittedly familiar-feeling Richard Says Goodbye still wins with its witty dialogue, ability to surprise, and Depp’s central performance. Funny, sad, sympathetic, warm and inventive, it’s the actor doing something that he hasn’t been asked to do that much of lately: acting.